Preterm infants are at increased risk of alterations in brain structure and connectivity, and subsequent neurocognitive impairment. Breast milk may be more advantageous than formula feed for promoting brain development in infants born at term, but uncertainties remain about its effect on preterm brain development and the optimal nutritional regimen for preterm infants. We test the hypothesis that breast milk exposure is associated with improved markers of brain development and connectivity in preterm infants at term equivalent age. We collected information about neonatal breast milk exposure and brain MRI at term equivalent age from 47 preterm infants (mean postmenstrual age [PMA] 29.43 weeks, range 23.28-33.0). Network-Based Statistics (NBS), Tract-based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) and volumetric analysis were used to investigate the effect of breast milk exposure on white matter water diffusion parameters, tissue volumes, and the structural connectome. Twenty-seven infants received exclusive breast milk feeds for ≥75% of days of in-patient care and this was associated with higher connectivity in the fractional anisotropy (FA)-weighted connectome compared with the group who had < 75% of days receiving exclusive breast milk feeds (NBS, p = 0.04). Within the TBSS white matter skeleton, the group that received ≥75% exclusive breast milk days exhibited higher FA within the corpus callosum, cingulum cingulate gyri, centrum semiovale, corticospinal tracts, arcuate fasciculi and posterior limbs of the internal capsule compared with the low exposure group after adjustment for PMA at birth, PMA at image acquisition, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and chorioamnionitis (p < 0.05). The effect on structural connectivity and tract water diffusion parameters was greater with ≥90% exposure, suggesting a dose effect. There were no significant groupwise differences in brain volumes. Breast milk feeding in the weeks after preterm birth is associated with improved structural connectivity of developing networks and greater FA in major white matter fasciculi.
Hippocampal volume increase in response to aerobic exercise has been consistently observed in animal models. However, the evidence from human studies is equivocal. We undertook a systematic review to identify all controlled trials examining the effect of aerobic exercise on the hippocampal volumes in humans, and applied meta-analytic techniques to determine if aerobic exercise resulted in volumetric increases. We also sought to establish how volume changes differed in relation to unilateral measures of left/right hippocampal volume, and across the lifespan. A systematic search identified 4398 articles, of which 14 were eligible for inclusion in the primary analysis. A random-effects meta-analysis showed no significant effect of aerobic exercise on total hippocampal volume across the 737 participants. However, aerobic exercise had significant positive effects on left hippocampal volume in comparison to control conditions. Post-hoc analyses indicated effects were driven through exercise preventing the volumetric decreases which occur over time. These results provide meta-analytic evidence for exercise-induced volumetric retention in the left hippocampus. Aerobic exercise interventions may be useful for preventing age-related hippocampal deterioration and maintaining neuronal health.
We studied a group of verbal memory specialists to determine whether intensive oral text memory is associated with structural features of hippocampal and lateral-temporal regions implicated in language processing. Professional Vedic Sanskrit Pandits in India train from childhood for around 10 years in an ancient, formalized tradition of oral Sanskrit text memorization and recitation, mastering the exact pronunciation and invariant content of multiple 40,000-100,000 word oral texts. We conducted structural analysis of grey matter density, cortical thickness, local gyrification, and white matter structure, relative to matched controls. We found massive gray matter density and cortical thickness increases in Pandit brains in language, memory and visual systems, including i) bilateral lateral temporal cortices and ii) the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus, regions associated with long and short-term memory. Differences in hippocampal morphometry matched those previously documented for expert spatial navigators and individuals with good verbal working memory. The findings provide unique insight into the brain organization implementing formalized oral knowledge systems.
Diffusion Kurtosis Imaging (DKI) is a diffusion-weighted technique which overcomes limitations of the commonly used diffusion tensor imaging approach. This technique models non-Gaussian behaviour of water diffusion by the diffusion kurtosis tensor (KT), which can be used to provide indices of tissue heterogeneity and a better characterisation of the spatial architecture of tissue microstructure. In this study, the geometry of the KT is elucidated using synthetic data generated from multi-compartmental models, where diffusion heterogeneity between intra and extra-cellular media are taken into account, as well as the sensitivity of the results to each model parameter and to synthetic noise. Furthermore, based on the assumption that maxima of the KT are distributed perpendicularly to the direction of well aligned fibres, a novel algorithm for estimating fibre direction directly from the KT is proposed and compared to the fibre directions extracted from DKI based orientation distribution function (ODF) estimates previously proposed in the literature. Synthetic data results showed that, for fibres crossing at high intersection angles, direction estimates extracted directly from the KT have smaller errors than the DKI based ODF estimation approaches (DKI-ODF). Nevertheless, the proposed method showed smaller angular resolution and lower stability to changes of the simulation parameters. On real data, tractography performed on these KT fibre estimates suggests a higher sensitivity than the DKI based ODF in resolving lateral corpus callosum fibres reaching the pre-central cortex when diffusion acquisition is performed with five b-values. Using faster acquisition schemes, KT based tractography did not show improved performance over the DKI-ODF procedures. Nevertheless, it is shown that direct KT fibres estimates are more adequate for computing a generalized version of radial kurtosis maps.
During a dyadic social interaction, two individuals can share visual attention through gaze, directed to each other (mutual gaze) or to a third person or an object (joint attention). Shared attention is fundamental to dyadic face-to-face interaction, but how attention is shared, retained, and neutrally represented in a pair-specific manner has not been well studied. Here, we conducted a two-day hyperscanning functional magnetic resonance imaging study in which pairs of participants performed a real-time mutual gaze task followed by a joint attention task on the first day, and mutual gaze tasks several days later. The joint attention task enhanced eye-blink synchronization, which is believed to be a behavioral index of shared attention. When the same participant pairs underwent mutual gaze without joint attention on the second day, enhanced eye-blink synchronization persisted, and this was positively correlated with inter-individual neural synchronization within the right inferior frontal gyrus. Neural synchronization was also positively correlated with enhanced eye-blink synchronization during the previous joint attention task session. Consistent with the Hebbian association hypothesis, the right inferior frontal gyrus had been activated both by initiating and responding to joint attention. These results indicate that shared attention is represented and retained by pair-specific neural synchronization that cannot be reduced to the individual level.
Hippocampal atrophy is found in many psychiatric disorders that are more prevalent in women. Sex differences in memory and spatial skills further suggest that males and females differ in hippocampal structure and function. We conducted the first meta-analysis of male-female difference in hippocampal volume (HCV) based on published MRI studies of healthy participants of all ages, to test whether the structure is reliably sexually dimorphic. Using four search strategies, we collected 68 matched samples of males' and females' uncorrected HCVs (in 4418 total participants), and 36 samples of male and female HCVs (2183 participants) that were corrected for individual differences in total brain volume (TBV) or intracranial volume (ICV). Pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random-effects model for left, right, and bilateral uncorrected HCVs and for left and right HCVs corrected for TBV or ICV. We found that uncorrected HCV was reliably larger in males, with Hedges' g values of 0.545 for left hippocampus, 0.526 for right hippocampus, and 0.557 for bilateral hippocampus. Meta-regression revealed no effect of age on the sex difference in left, right, or bilateral HCV. In the subset of studies that reported it, both TBV (g=1.085) and ICV (g= 1.272) were considerably larger in males. Accordingly, studies reporting HCVs corrected for individual differences in TBV or ICV revealed no significant sex differences in left and right HCVs (Hedges' g ranging from +0.011 to -0.206). In summary, we found that human males of all ages exhibit a larger HCV than females, but adjusting for individual differences in TBV or ICV results in no reliable sex difference. The frequent claim that women have a disproportionately larger hippocampus than men was not supported.
Individual variability has clear effects upon the outcome of therapies and treatment approaches. The customization of healthcare options to the individual patient should accordingly improve treatment results. We propose a novel approach to brain interventions based on personalized brain network models derived from non-invasive structural data of individual patients. Along the example of a patient with bitemporal epilepsy, we show step by step how to develop a Virtual Epileptic Patient (VEP) brain model and integrate patient-specific information such as brain connectivity, epileptogenic zone and MRI lesions. Using high-performance computing, we systematically carry out parameter space explorations, fit and validate the brain model against the patient’s empirical stereotactic EEG (SEEG) data and demonstrate how to develop novel personalized strategies towards therapy and intervention.
Cognitive neuroscience has long sought to understand the biological foundations of human intelligence. Decades of research have revealed that general intelligence is correlated with two brain-based biomarkers: the concentration of the brain biochemical N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) measured by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and total brain volume measured using structural MR imaging (MRI). However, the relative contribution of these biomarkers in predicting performance on core facets of human intelligence remain to be well characterized. In the present study, we sought to elucidate the role of NAA and brain volume in predicting fluid intelligence (Gf). Three canonical tests of Gf (BOMAT, Number Series, and Letter Sets) and three working memory tasks (Reading, Rotation, and Symmetry span tasks) were administered to a large sample of healthy adults (n=211). We conducted exploratory factor analysis to investigate the factor structure underlying Gf independent from working memory and observed two Gf components (verbal/spatial and quantitative reasoning) and one working memory component. Our findings revealed a dissociation between two brain biomarkers of Gf (controlling for age and sex): NAA concentration correlated with verbal/spatial reasoning, whereas brain volume correlated with quantitative reasoning and working memory. A follow-up analysis revealed that this pattern of findings is observed for males and females when analyzed separately. Our results provide novel evidence that distinct brain biomarkers are associated with specific facets of human intelligence, demonstrating that NAA and brain volume are independent predictors of verbal/spatial and quantitative facets of Gf.
The positive relationship between hippocampal structure, aerobic fitness, and memory performance is often observed among children and older adults; but evidence of this relationship among young adults, for whom the hippocampus is neither developing nor atrophying, is less consistent. Studies have typically relied on hippocampal volumetry (a gross proxy of tissue composition) to assess individual differences in hippocampal structure. While volume is not specific to microstructural tissue characteristics, microstructural differences in hippocampal integrity may exist even among healthy young adults when volumetric differences are not diagnostic of tissue health or cognitive function. Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is an emerging noninvasive imaging technique for measuring viscoelastic tissue properties and provides quantitative measures of tissue integrity. We have previously demonstrated that individual differences in hippocampal viscoelasticity are related to performance on a relational memory task; however, little is known about health correlates to this novel measure. In the current study, we investigated the relationship between hippocampal viscoelasticity and cardiovascular health, and their mutual effect on relational memory in a group of healthy young adults (N=51). We replicated our previous finding that hippocampal viscoelasticity correlates with relational memory performance. We extend this work by demonstrating that better aerobic fitness, as measured by VO2max, was associated with hippocampal viscoelasticity that mediated the benefits of fitness on memory function. Hippocampal volume, however, did not account for individual differences in memory. Therefore, these data suggest that hippocampal viscoelasticity may provide a more sensitive measure to microstructural tissue organization and its consequences to cognition among healthy young adults.
Recent studies have gradually revealed that higher aerobic fitness is related to higher cognitive function and higher task-related prefrontal activation in older adults. However, a holistic picture of these factors has yet to be presented. As a typical age-related change of brain activation, less lateralized activity in the prefrontal cortex during cognitive tasks has been observed in various neuroimaging studies. Thus, this study aimed to reveal the relationship between aerobic fitness, cognitive function, and frontal lateralization. Sixty male older adults each performed a submaximal incremental exercise test to determine their oxygen intake (VO2) at ventilatory threshold (VT) in order to index their aerobic fitness. They performed a color-word Stroop task while prefrontal activation was monitored using functional near infrared spectroscopy. As an index of cognitive function, Stroop interference time was analyzed. Partial correlation analyses revealed significant correlations among higher VT, shorter Stroop interference time and greater left-lateralized dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) activation when adjusting for education. Moreover, mediation analyses showed that left-lateralized DLPFC activation significantly mediated the association between VT and Stroop interference time. These results suggest that higher aerobic fitness is associated with cognitive function via lateralized frontal activation in older adults.